THE ALASKAN LAUNDRY -- a fierce, lost young woman finds herself through the hard work of fishing and the stubborn love of real friendship
The Alaskan Laundry by Brendan Jones (2016, Mariner Books; 384 pages)
This is an impressive debut novel from Sitka author Brendan Jones, and it deserves all its many accolades -- including being named an Oprah's Book Club pick.
Following the death of her mother and the widening of a seemingly impassable rift with her father, 18-year-old Tara Marconi has run away from her home in Philadelphia, leaving the family bakery, her boyfriend Connor, and a troubled past behind her. She travels to the remote, rugged Alaskan island town of Port Anna, aka “the Rock” (a fictional stand-in for Sitka), with plans to work for a year at a fish hatchery. At first glance, no one believes she will last a week, let alone a year in this majestic, rugged frontier. But after a rough start, Tara works her way through the commercial fishing industry – from hatchery worker, to deck hand to king crabber -- and stays much longer than she originally planned. Tara finds herself drawn to an old WWII tug boat that is for sale, and she becomes obsessed with earning enough money to buy the boat and a place to call her own.
This book gets some attention for the fact that Jones writes from the female perspective, and he does a commendable job with Tara's characterization, making her tough (she's a boxer), tenacious, and vulnerable. But what makes this novel so special is the author's first-hand knowledge of the world he portrays – the world of the Alaska fishing industry and the people who spend their lives in it -- and his brilliant evocation of that world. Brendan Jones has lived this story. Raised in Philadelphia, he took a Greyhound west at the age of 19, ending up in Sitka, where he commercial fished, and eventually came to stay. He has made his home on a World War II tugboat in Sitka, which he renovated himself, and he continues to fish commercially. Indeed, The Alaskan Laundry serves as a master course in Alaska’s fishing industry. The reader learns how to perform these jobs and survive from the ground up through Tara’s eyes – from a greenhorn just starting work in a fish hatchery, then graduating to processor in a fish processing plant, then as a deckhand on a fishing boat in Southeast, and finally to king crabber in the Bering Sea. Everything Jones describes -- the people, the setting, the landscape, and even the smells -- are pitch perfect in establishing a real sense of place. His love of the lifestyle he describes informs the story, and makes the reader want to chuck it all and join him, hardships and all. Reading this book is an immersive experience -- the characters are so well defined, the different aspects of forging a living in the fishing community, the landscape lovingly and sensually presented.
"'So we’re all tumbling around in the Alaskan laundry out here. If you do it right you get all that dirt washed out, then turn around and start making peace with the other sh*t. Maybe even make a few friends along the way."
This is a book about Alaska that goes beyond the wilderness and investigates the hearts of the people who are drawn to make this "great land" their home.
Find this title in our catalog: The Alaskan Laundry
Recommended by: Greg
FIND THE GOOD -- Haines author Heather Lende gives us a fresh perspective from which to view our relationships, our obligations, our community, and our world
Find the Good by Heather Lende (2015, Algonquin Books; 176 pages)
I loved this collection of short essays from Haines author Heather Lende. These are vignettes about a community, many centering on local obituaries (Lende writes obituaries for the Chilkat Valley News), but with a focus on the positive. It’s thoughtful and sweet.
Author of The New York Times bestseller If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name, Heather Lende has been compared to Annie Dillard and Anne Lamott.
Find this title in our catalog: Find The Good
Recommended by: Ann
A WOLF CALLED ROMEO -- a lyrical, thoughtful account of one community's poignant encounter with a wolf that liked to play with dogs
A Wolf Called Romeo by Nick Jans (2015, Mariner Books; 288 pages)
This account of the black wolf that frequented the Mendenhall Glacier area in Juneau for 7 years was interesting and informative. Jans provides firsthand experience with Romeo and considerable documentation of wolf/wildlife biology. He presents a fairly unbiased view of both sides from the community with compassion and humor. While I enjoy Jans’s writing, I had a particular interest in this book as I had the good fortune of encountering him myself on a trip to the Mendenhall. Standing 20 feet from a living, breathing, wild wolf is an experience not soon forgotten.
Find this title in our catalog: A Wolf Called Romeo
Recommended by: Ann
CHUCK SASSARA'S ALASKA: PROPELLERS, POLITICS & PEOPLE -- a vivid account of Alaska flying and politics by the longtime pilot and former state legislator
Chuck Sassara's Alaska: Propellers, Politics & People by Chuck Sassara (2015 Constant Drummer Publishing Co.; 174 pages)
Chuck Sassara’s story, as told in his rousing memoir, “Chuck Sassara’s Alaska: Propellers, Politics & People,” is a story of a life lived large and wide. It’s the story of an adventurer and pilot-turned politician, whose aviation career spanned from the early 1950s to 2013, connecting him with hundreds of colorful characters and an equal number of extraordinary life experiences.
The book is first and foremost a pilot’s memoir, with the lion’s share of it given over to his love of airplanes, and stories about flying. There is even a glossary at the end of the book detailing the more than 150 types of aircraft he flew over the course of his piloting career.
But what sticks with the reader are the people that fly in and out of the book, from the obscure to the well-known – other pilots, mostly -- outsized characters like the perpetually-down-on-his-luck Jimmy Burns, Earthquake John McBride, or Larry “One-Way” Thompson (so monikered because of his habit of crashing his planes before making a return trip). The better-known include former territorial Governor and U.S. Senator Ernest Gruening, and the late U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, with whom Sassara served in the Alaska legislature in the 1960s. While the two were from opposing parties, they became close friends.
While this is a self-published book, it’s well-edited, and the down-home style of the author’s writing is part of its charm. Sassara’s descriptions are colorful, unvarnished, and funny. “Chapters of the book are like tales told over beers,” wrote one reviewer from The Alaska Dispatch-News. It’s an apt description.
For aviation fans, or anyone interested in Alaska’s aviation and political history, this book is a must.
Find this title in our catalog: Chuck Sassara's Alaska
Recommended by: Greg
LAST LETTERS FROM ATTU: THE TRUE STORY OF ETTA JONES, ALASKA PIONEER AND JAPANESE P.O.W. -- one woman's letters tell the story of her life in Alaska , and what happened to those taken prisoner when the Japanese invaded Attu Island
Last Letters From Attu: The True Story of Etta Jones, Alaska Pioneer and Japanese P.O.W. by Mary Breu (2009, Alaska Northwest Books; 320 pages)
The true story of an Alaska pioneer, stationed on Attu when the Japanese invaded the island. Jones' letters and photographs have been used by her grand-niece, Mary Breu for this book.
Etta Jones was an American school teacher who, in 1941, along with her husband, Foster, agreed to teach the Natives on the remote Aleutian island of Attu. They were both sixty-two years old when they left Alaska's mainland for Attu against the advice of friends and family. Etta and her sister moved to the Territory of Alaska in 1922. She planned to stay only one year as a vacation, but this 40-something-year-old nurse from back east met Foster Jones and fell in love. She married and for nearly twenty years they taught in remote Alaskan villages, including their last posting on Attu Island at the far end of the Aleutian island chain. Etta's life changed forever on that Sunday morning in June 1942 when almost 2,000 Japanese military men invaded Attu Island and Etta -- along with the rest of the civilian population -- became a prisoner of war. She was taken from American soil to Japan and given up for dead. This is the story of a brave American, a woman of courage and resolve with inextinguishable spirit.
Find this title in our catalog: Last Letters From Attu
Recommended by: Ann
DROP CITY -- what happens when a 1970's California hippie commune moves north to Alaska and collides with the locals
Drop City by T. C. Boyle (2004, Penguin Books; 512 pages)
For those in search of some hippie nostalgia -- now that marijuana is legal in Alaska and we can call ourselves "the officially recognized new hippies" -- I would recommend reading Drop City, a book by T.C. Boyle with exceptional characters, a master dialogue technique and a very interesting premise: the author brings some California hippies north where they have to endure the endless winter of the Alaskan wilderness.
We have this book in our Alaskana collection, and when you read it you will understand why.
In his BookPage review, Bruce Tierney describes the book: "Drop City begins in a Sonoma commune of the same name, circa 1970. It would be a comparatively simple task to write a book about the culture clash between the normal folks and the hippies, or even a Cyra McFadden-style send-up about life on a commune, but T.C. Boyle has never been one for taking the easy road. Rather, Drop City is a tale of a utopian community riven from within by many of the problems that have plagued "straight" society for ages: drugs, sexism, racism and jealousy.
Meanwhile, in remote Boynton, Alaska, a union takes place between a hermit-like fur trapper and a mail-order bride. The wedding goes superbly (one is tempted to say 'without a hitch') until late in the day, when it is crashed by the sworn enemy of the groom, the only person in Boynton who was not invited to the ceremony. Hijinks ensue, and the upshot of the skirmish leaves a team of sled dogs dead, and a pristine 1965 Shelby Mustang GT-350 coupe submerged in the cold deep waters of Birch Creek.
Back in California, the law is breathing down the necks of Drop City's resident revelers. A dead horse, a hit-and-run car accident, and several issues with the building codes department have conspired to draw the utopian experiment to a close. It is time to move on, but where to? You guessed it: Boynton, Alaska, to establish Drop City North. A weedy caravan of vehicles (a dusty Lincoln, a rusty Studebaker, and an elderly school bus) gingerly makes its way across the Canadian border, up the Alaska Highway. It will be a clash of a different sort, as the welfare/food-stamp/peace/love/dope crowd comes into contact with perhaps the most fiercely self-sufficient people the country has ever known."
As I read somewhere: "For best effect, read Drop City in a beanbag chair. A drop or two of patchouli oil and Janis (Joplin) on the stereo couldn't hurt, either."
Find this title in our catalog: Drop City
Recommended by: Maite
Walking Home: A Traveler in the Alaskan Wilderness, A Journey Into the Human Heart by Lynn Schooler (2010, Bloomsbury; 270 pages)
Walking Home by Lynn Schooler blends Alaskan wilderness adventure, history, and personal narrative to result in a compelling read. Schooler’s writing is poetic both in its descriptions of the natural world—Juneau and the nearby coast from Lituya Bay to Yakutat Bay—as well as in its exploration of his own emotional terrain as he experiences personal loss. While I’m drawn to Schooler’s poetic style, perhaps what I most enjoy is his ability to wrap his present day, at times gripping, Alaska adventure story in historical stories about the places he travels through. As Schooler boats the coast from Juneau to Lituya Bay, the tales of early European explorers mapping the coast and some of their first interactions with the Native Alaskans living in that “wilderness” weave in and out of his own story, like clouds clinging to the shoulders of mountains, revealing some peaks and shrouding others. Riveting details about the earthquake and resulting avalanches and tsunami that devastated Lituya Bay in 1958 wind through Schooler’s own trip into Lituya Bay where he then begins a journey by foot. Walking Home is a beautiful book that any reader who enjoys a good adventure story but craves a bit more will be delighted by.
Find this title in our catalog: Walking Home